Turning lives around – out of the supermarket into the food bank

According to the Daily Mirror, a large provider of outsourced public services ‘has terminated 2,400 employees’ contracts and issued new ones – including 300 zero-hour agreements‘.

So far, so unsurprising. This is typical of the assault on the rights of low paid workers committed by unscrupulous private employers in the outsourced public service sector. In this case, the organisation responsible is a charity which claims to be a social enterprise.

Last year, Social Enterprise UK took a stand against this kind of behaviour with the publication of The Shadow State.

As that report pointed out: “In many cases a saving in one part of the public purse creates an equal or greater loss in another – for example bidding on price usually creates a race to the bottom on wages, fuelling low pay and inequalities. Low pay has a huge social impact, necessitating in-work benefits which taxpayers must fund, and making it impossible for large sections of the workforce to prepare financially for their old-age and retirement. This also means we are storing up further costs for future taxpayers.

One of those who gave their ‘time, insight and expertise to the creation of this report’ was Lord Adebowale, chief executive of charity and social enterprise, Turning Point. When discussing low pay creating a race to bottom, it’s a shame they didn’t ask his Lordship whether he was for or against. It seems a shame that this expert wasn’t asked for her input, too.

As expected, Turning Point have offered the kind of response that should be expected in these circumstances. Whether you accept this response will depend on whether believe that by calling yourself a social enterprise you thereby earn the right to replace positive action to deliver social change with a mixture of negative action that actively makes society worse and special pleading.

The suggestion is not that Turning Point are worse than A4E or Serco but that, in terms of their values, they are no different. The need to find entrepreneurial solution to social problems remains as great as ever. I’m wondering if Turning Point are the organisation that prove that describing organisations as ‘a social enterprise’ may have outlived it usefulness. One things for certain, I don’t want to be in a movement with these people.




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7 responses to “Turning lives around – out of the supermarket into the food bank

  1. justanotherposter

    I wonder if Lord Adebowale was too busy to have noticed the apparent contradiction between his words and his deeds? In all fairness, its not surprising as he does have 10 other jobs to hold down.. http://www.turning-point.co.uk/news-and-events/media-spokespeople.aspx


  2. The irony of a food bank in my local Tesco struck me a few weeks ago. I reflected on how the local council had been falling over themselves to accomodate Asda while being very clear that they have no policy to support social enterprise:


    Asda is the UK arm of the Walmart group who put a lot of money into keeping down wages in the US. We took a stand for the Living Wage enshrined in the International Covenenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and it was a large part of our own activism.
    From what I read, It would seem that social enterprise support oerganisations have no policy to support a living wage. Our contact John Edwards, was an early critic of the payday lenders.



  3. 83

    This is really interesting stuff however what do you say to someone like me who doesn’t mind having a zero hour contract? What is the best way to ensure flexibility for the worker without tying them down to a commitment they don’t want to make? I’m at Uni, work when I can and don’t want to be tied into set hours. The agreement I have suits me – I can’t be the only one.


  4. Beanbags admin

    You definitely aren’t the only one. You’re entirely correct to point out that zero hours contracts aren’t an evil in themselves, the problem is some of the things they’re used to do.

    My position’s roughly the one of the bloke from the Work Foundation (quoted in the BBC report) that there’s a spectrum – and some people are being unfairly exploited and some people aren’t.

    In terms of whether staff are being unfairly exploited, the key question is whether those workers have chosen to go down that route. And a significant number of people in the specific case here are making clear that they’re not happy to go down that route by taking the employer to an employment tribunal.

    But the overall social impact of the practice is about more than the question of whether individual workers are being unfairly exploited.

    Broadly speaking, there’s the wider question of whether there’s enough secure jobs in the economy for people who do want and need them. Clearly exactly the same job is flexible work for one person and a situation of terrifying uncertainty for someone else in different life circumstances, but the person for whom it represents terrifying uncertainty may not have a choice if there’s no other jobs on offer.

    This problem is not necessarily one for individual employers but it’s one that the government and wider society has to be able to answer if we’re going to have an economy that works for people but if organisations are calling themselves social enterprises, the onus is on them to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

    There’s a wider question, though, in publicly-funded services about the effect that these employment practices have on the service itself.
    In the social care sector, the employment of large numbers of staff on zero hours contracts is (just one) part of a move towards a lowest common denominator service – where low-paid, under-skilled, insecurely contracted staff are employed to support some of the most vulnerable people in society.

    While many individuals do a great job against the odds, the overall effect is that these services don’t work properly and the net effect is that central government, which is driving these changes by cutting council budgets, ultimately has to pick up the tab for this failed care in other areas of the public sector (primarily the NHS) once people’s lives have become significantly worse. And ‘social enterprises’ like Turning Point support them in doing that.


  5. In my work in homelessness, I of course come into regular contact with Drug and Alcohol Services of which Turning Point are one. I know Turning Point fairly well and I’ve always been impressed by the quality and dedication of their staff. I still am. To be honest I’m not completely sure what the transition from casual workers to zero hour contracts actually means in the terms of pay, conditions and job security.

    Turning Point seem in their statement to be saying that the transition is an upgrade for casual workers. If that’s the case why are they upset enough to dispute the transition?

    I believe the dedicated worker in this instance over management. Has there been a change in management?

    Above all it’s extremely sad to see the integrity of this organisation thrown into question.

    I fear that in this case, the behaviour of the organisation is short sighted and is in effect the beginning of their fall from grace. That, if true, really is a great shame.


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